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Nat Neurosci. 2011 Jun 19;14(7):889-95. doi: 10.1038/nn.2860.

Imaging analysis of clock neurons reveals light buffers the wake-promoting effect of dopamine.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Center for Behavioral Genomics, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA.


How animals maintain proper amounts of sleep yet remain flexible to changes in environmental conditions remains unknown. We found that environmental light suppressed the wake-promoting effects of dopamine in fly brains. The ten large lateral-ventral neurons (l-LNvs), a subset of clock neurons, are wake-promoting and respond to dopamine, octopamine and light. Behavioral and imaging analyses suggested that dopamine is a stronger arousal signal than octopamine. Notably, light exposure not only suppressed l-LNv responses, but also synchronized responses of neighboring l-LNvs. This regulation occurred by distinct mechanisms: light-mediated suppression of octopamine responses was regulated by the circadian clock, whereas light regulation of dopamine responses occurred by upregulation of inhibitory dopamine receptors. Plasticity therefore alters the relative importance of diverse cues on the basis of the environmental mix of stimuli. The regulatory mechanisms described here may contribute to the control of sleep stability while still allowing behavioral flexibility.

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